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Unformatted text preview: Self-Compassion, Self-Esteem, and Well-Being Kristin D. Neff* University of Texas at Austin Abstract This article focuses on the construct of self-compassion and how it differs from self-esteem. First, it discusses the fact that while self-esteem is related to psychological well-being, the pursuit of high self-esteem can be problematic. Next it presents another way to feel good about oneself: self- compassion. Self-compassion entails treating oneself with kindness, recognizing ones shared humanity, and being mindful when considering negative aspects of oneself. Finally, this article suggests that self-compassion may offer similar mental health benefits as self-esteem, but with fewer downsides. Research is presented which shows that self-compassion provides greater emo- tional resilience and stability than self-esteem, but involves less self-evaluation, ego-defensiveness, and self-enhancement than self-esteem. Whereas self-esteem entails evaluating oneself positively and often involves the need to be special and above average, self-compassion does not entail self- evaluation or comparisons with others. Rather, it is a kind, connected, and clear-sighted way of relating to ourselves even in instances of failure, perceived inadequacy, and imperfection. Imagine that youre an amateur singer-songwriter, and you invite your friends and family to see you perform at a nearby coffeehouse that showcases local talent. After the big night you ask everyone how they thought it went. You were average is the reply. How would you feel in this scenario? Ashamed, humiliated, like you were a failure? In our incredibly competitive society, being average is unacceptable. We have to be special and above average to feel we have any worth at all. The problem, of course, is that it is impos- sible for everyone to be above average at the same time. This means that we tend to inflate our self-evaluations (Alicke & Sedikides, 2009) and put others down so that we can feel superior in comparison (Tesser, 1999) all in the name of maintaining our self- esteem. For instance, research has shown that fully 90% of drivers think theyre more skilled than their road mates (Preston & Harris, 1965) even people whove recently caused a car accident think theyre superior drivers! This paper will argue that striving for high self-esteem can sometimes be counterproductive, and that self-compassion may offer a healthier and more sustainable way to feel good about oneself. First, however, I will consider some of the problems with seeing self-esteem as the ultimate marker of psycho- logical health. Psychology and Self-Esteem: A Love Affair Self-esteem is an evaluation of our worthiness as individuals, a judgment that we are good, valuable people. William James, one of the founding fathers of Western psychol- ogy, argued that self-esteem was an important aspect of mental health. According to James, self-esteem is a product of perceived competence in domains of importance...
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